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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14481

Diet composition of juvenile green turtles in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean: long-term insights from a beach stranding program

Luciana R. Gama*, Jeffrey A. Seminoff, Garrett E. Lemons, Mariana M. P. B. Fuentes, Franciane Pellizzari, Mario R. C. Meira-Filho, Liana Rosa, Gabriela M. VĂ©lez-Rubio, Estevan Luiz da Silveira, Camila Domit*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Long-term diet studies provide information on the temporal variation in diet composition, habitat use and foraging ecology of species. Assessment of dead-stranded sea turtles by stranding programs allows systematic diet sampling over a broad temporal scale, which can help elucidate potential ecological and environmental changes. Off the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean, the Paraná coast, Brazil, is an important foraging ground for juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas). To determine seasonal and interannual diet variability, 351 dead-stranded individuals had their dietary contents analyzed to the major taxa level from 2008-2020. We identified 13 major prey groups that made up green turtles’ diets. A subset of turtles had diet identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible. Interannual differences were found, with the Chlorophyte Ulva lactuca highly important in 2008, 2011–2018; Bivalvia and Gastropoda in 2016 and 2017. During La Niña events (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020), Chlorophyta, Mollusca, Crustacea and Hydrozoa were the most frequently encountered diet items; during El Niño events (2015, 2016, 2019) Ochrophyta was the most consumed taxon. Seasonal differences were found, such that Echinodermata and Teleostei were important in autumn and winter; Hydrozoa and Gastropoda in all seasons. Our results underscore individual dietary plasticity, including inter-seasonal and annual differences, which likely reflects their ability to respond to changing prey availabilities and environmental characteristics driven by natural and perhaps anthropogenic influences. Understanding potential links between diet, habitat use, and the effects of a shifting diet and foraging grounds are key information for monitoring impacts and guiding conservation actions.